Train employees, others before livestock disease outbreaks occur

COLUMBIA, Mo. – One small breach of protocol can lead to a disease outbreak and financial loss for livestock producers.

An MU Extension team teaches livestock producers throughout Missouri to follow protocols that protect animal and human health, food and the environment.

The team received USDA Extension Education funding to offer a series of biosecurity workshops in Missouri recently.

Prevention of disease outbreaks saves animal lives and money, says Joe Zulovich, principal investigator on the grant. Training staff and putting protocols in place can prevent or reduce losses.

The first step is to assess risks by reviewing workflow and traffic flow across farm and barn boundaries, says Zulovich.

Biosecurity begins with creation of “clean zones” and “dirty zones,” he says.

Livestock producers should create clearly defined boundaries inside and outside of the farm to prevent visitors and workers from carrying disease directly into areas where animals live.

Restricted access to the farm and buildings creates a buffer of protection to animals. Post warning signs at farm entrances and buildings where animals live, Zulovich says. Train employees, service personnel such as delivery drivers, and general visitors to break the chain of contamination. Keep supplies such as soap, sanitizer and plastic boots readily available to visitors.

Workers and approved visitors should wear clean, site-specific booties and clothing to prevent the spread of disease into animal-raising areas. People can carry disease on their boots, clothing, supplies, equipment and other objects. It can be airborne or brought in through animal food and water. Rodents, pests and birds also create risks.

Some systems require workers to shower on-site before entering the clean zone, and again when leaving the clean zone.

Establish barriers that limit access to the farm. Examine the workflow of your farm to consider openings where disease can come in. Restrict feed trucks by placing feed bins close to a perimeter fence, Zulovich says. Arrange for packages to be delivered off-site.

Zulovich says most swine and poultry producers have good systems in place. The challenge is in getting employees to follow the rules. Disease risk increases when employees do not strictly follow protocol at all times.

“Make sure you train your employees,” says Teng Lim, co-principal investigator on the USDA grant. “Details matter.” He urges producers to establish a written plan for training and response. Test and audit the plan on a regular basis, he says.

The materials presented in the workshops can be found at The webpage includes a short animated video illustrating the biosecurity checklist. The video can be used for quick reminders or in-house training, Lim says.

Producers should be on the lookout for disease presence, especially when other states and countries report disease. Producers should alert the state veterinarian when they see unusual symptoms or unexplained death losses in their herds or flocks, or when there is any suspicion of foreign animal disease. Contact the state veterinarian immediately when a mass mortality occurs due to disease, Zulovich says.

The state of Missouri requires that all animal mortalities be disposed of within 24 hours. MU Extension serves in an advisory role to the state veterinarian when there is a mass mortality. The MU Extension publication “Composting Dead Swine” (WQ351) and “The Feasibility of Ruminant Composting” (PDF), a feasibility study conducted by University of Missouri researchers, are available online.

When a disease outbreak happens, the most feasible option may be burning or composting dead animals on-farm. Mortality composters are large, heated drums that rotate similarly to a concrete mixer.

In recent years, Missouri poultry producers have faced outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza. Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus and Seneca Valley virus are among the diseases found in Missouri in the last two decades.

Zulovich and Lim recommend that producers review biosecurity protocols before an outbreak occurs. “Plan ahead,” Lim says.

Leading swine industry experts will discuss diseases at the Swine Health Symposium in Sedalia. For more information on the July 17 event, go to